BOOK NOTES: Jane Eyre (pt. 2)

Since my last post, Jane has blossomed into a very sensible and intelligent young woman. There is still that native spark in her — a remnant of the passionate child we saw residing at Gateshead, rebelling against the unjust and unfeeling treatment of Aunt Reed — but it has since been tempered by a sound head and steady principles. I find it amazing, how a girl of eighteen can be so level-headed as she. When I was eighteen, if memory serves correctly, I was more emotional than sensible, fearful rather than confident. But then again, I never went through what Jane did: never had to be my own adult from a young age, or work hard in order to ensure that I had a livelihood that would sustain me till I was either married or dead.

Jane advertises, and — surprise, surprise — she obtains a post at Thornfield. She is not unhappy there, but she is also not happy. I saw some of myself in Jane at this point in the story: her insecurities, her desire to please, her need for activity and intellectual stimulation and above all friendship — companionship. Enter Mr. Rochester in a flurry of rough, heated words and a sprained ankle. Nothing seems to change for Jane, except now she gets to talk to a confusing, grumpy man instead of the housekeeper in the evenings. Fun times.

But it really does become fun, talking to Rochester. He comes off as moody and cynical and generally unpleasant, but in time and conversations Jane realizes that he has good and light in him; they are merely snagged and entangled by the “cruel cross[es] of fate” in his life. Further conversations seem to encourage his “better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes:”

“Strange that I should choose you for the confidante of all this, young lady; passing strange that you should listen to me quietly, as if it were the most usual thing in the world for a man like me to tell stories of his opera-mistresses to a quaint, inexperienced girl like you! […] I know what sort of mind I have placed in communication with my own: I know it is one not liable to take infection: it is a peculiar mind: it is a unique one. Happily, I do not mean to harm it: but if I did, it would not take harm from me. The more you and I converse the better; for while I cannot blight you, you may refresh me.”

In time, Jane, in Rochester’s eye,  progresses from being unnoticed, to being his personal moral purifier, to being a friend. This is where the story becomes of greatest interest to me. After Jane saves Rochester from near death, we see a change come upon the pair. Rochester, in his waxing eloquent re: how grateful he is for Jane, also reveals the buds of romantic sentiment:

“What? You will go?”

“I am cold, sir.”

“Cold? Yes — and standing in a pool! Go, then, Jane; go!” But he still retained my hand, and I could not free it.

He would not let go of her hand. How adorable is that? My heart squeezed a little when I read that. Oh, and let’s not forget what happens right before:

“[…] and now return to your own room. I shall do very well on the sofa in the library for the rest of the night. It is near four: in two hours the servants will be up.”

“Good-night, then, sir,” said I departing.

[…]

“What!” he exclaimed, “are you quitting me already, and in that way?”

“You said I might go, sir.”

“But not without taking leave; not without a word or two of acknowledgment and goodwill: not, in short, in that brief dry fashion. Why, you have saved my life — snatched me from a horrible and excruciating death! and you walk past me as if we were mutual strangers! At least shake hands.”

He held out his hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, then in both his own.

There is something childish and comical and yet terribly endearing about Rochester here, in the way he tells Jane one thing and then is utterly surprised that she went ahead and did what he said she could do. He’s the same arrogant Rochester we met before, but at the same time he has changed. He cares about Jane. He is concerned for her well-being. And he is beginning to like her.

The same change overcomes Jane. She is still the reserved young girl, but she too begins to harbor the germs of a romantic notion for Rochester.

I regained my couch, but never thought of sleep. TIll morning dawned I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy. I thought sometimes I saw beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah; and now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope, bore my spirit triumphantly towards the bourne: but I could not reach it, even in fancy — a counter-acting breeze blew off the land, and continually drove me back. Sense would resist delirium: judgment would warn passion. Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.

I like how the language here is so suggestive and yet so vague at the same time. Oh, Victorians, how I love your language!

Now comes the bittersweet! Jane falls head over heels in love with Rochester, but — what’s this? There’s someone else?

“She was greatly admired, of course?”

“Yes, indeed: and not only for her beauty, but for her accomplishments. She was one of the ladies who sang: a gentleman accompanied her on the piano. She and Mr. Rochester sang a duet.”

My heart went out to Jane during this scene. She makes no directly mention of the emotional state of her heart, but it’s clear that she’s caught in a whirlpool of jealousy and despair. With each mention of Blanche, Jane’s hopes are violently dashed to pieces against the rocks. The poor girl! And the pain just escalates as Rochester does nothing — at least publically — to deny the rumors that he and Blanche are to marry.

My absolute favorite scene from this section of the book comes at the end of Chapter 17, when Rochester follows Jane out of the drawing room. It’s full to the brim with forceful, unspoken emotion, and it’s as revealing as it is vague. It doesn’t stop amazing me, how powerful these moments can be. Rochester doesn’t speak his mind, not out of cruelty or indifference, but because he cannot bring himself to, because while he is so certain of his own feelings for Jane, he is equally uncertain of Jane’s for him. (Which is why he keeps up the pretense of favoring Blanche, in order to draw out some sort of response from Jane because she is so darn reserved.) And Jane cannot speak her mind for the same reason — and also because she feels like rags in comparison to the socially superior Blanche, whom she is certain will be Rochester’s choice of bride.

Actually, perhaps second favorite scene. My absolute has to be the proposal. It’s just masterful, the way it’s written: how Jane and Rochester are both near bursting at the seams — Jane, with increasing despair over the prospect of being separated from Rochester forever; Rochester, with the confusion from a combination of his love for Jane and his frustration at not knowing what Jane feels towards him — and how their internal struggles escalate until their reserve cracks and their emotions just roar out like water from a dam.

But then, of course, something happens, and Jane flees Thornfield. Thus ends this chapter of her life … and also this lengthy post. Part 3 to come soonish.

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